• March 2014
  • Vol. 15, No. 3

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Substance Use Among Youth in Care

While research has linked adverse childhood experiences such as child abuse and neglect to a high risk for substance use disorders later in life, research specific to substance use among children involved with child welfare is limited. A recent study using data from the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being (NSCAW) and the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) compared substance use among children and youth involved with child welfare to substance use by youth not involved with child welfare (in this study, "community youth").

NSCAW baseline data of children and families involved with child welfare were collected from 2000 to 2001. Add Health is a nationally representative, school-based sample of adolescents in the 7th through 12th grades, with baseline data collected during the 1994–1995 academic year. Using these data, the authors examined the following eight outcome measures of substance use: lifetime and current use of alcohol, inhalant, marijuana, and other illicit drugs.

Results showed that substance use for lifetime marijuana use, lifetime and current inhalant use, and lifetime and current illicit drug use was higher among youth involved with child welfare than community youth. Twice as many youth involved with child welfare than community youth reported lifetime inhalant use (12 percent compared to 6 percent), in addition to a 50-percent greater amount of hard drug use reported among youth involved with child welfare. Among youth involved with child welfare, delinquency was the sole significant factor associated with lifetime alcohol, marijuana, inhalant, and hard drug use. Results also showed that family structure and parental closeness were important protective factors against substance use among youth involved with child welfare.

The authors suggest that, in order for the child welfare and behavioral health communities to develop effective prevention interventions, further research is necessary to explore risk and protective factors associated with substance use.

"Higher Rates of Adolescent Substance Use in Child Welfare Versus Community Populations in the United States," by Danielle Fettes, Gregory Aarons, and Amy Green, Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 74(6), 2013, is available for purchase through the publisher:


For more information on NSCAW, visit the website for the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation:


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